It took health secretary three attempts in the House of Commons to welcome a contract tracing app in Scotland, more than six months after he pledged to launch similar technology for England.
In the House of Commons the Westminster health secretary was asked numerous times by the SNP applaud the launch of the app, and to update MPs on when he was set to unveil his own for England.
Hancock had previously pledged to launch an app using its own technology in May, but struggled to make it work, leading to the government to accept that it would need to use Google and Apple technology like other countries had used.
Martyn Day asked the minister: ‘Will he join me in welcoming the launch of Scotland’s Protect Scotland mobile tracing app yesterday and what update can he give the House on his own government’s plan to release a similar app?’
But the Tory minister simply replied: ‘We have been working with the Scottish Government, as well as with the Welsh Government and the Northern Ireland government, and actually governments internationally, on an update on the app technology.’
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He proceeded to claim the SNP were taking the same approach as Labour in undermining his proposals for tackling coronavirus.
‘There were, in the spring, some people who complained about my determination to expand our testing capacity at a record pace. We are hearing some of those voices again complaining that we want to increase testing. Both the SNP and Labour are making a huge mistake in opposing mass testing. It is an incredibly important tool in our arsenal.’
David Linden, another SNP MP, tried to get a second welcome from the health secretary.
He said: ‘We know the secretary of state is fond of technology, and we welcome that. I wonder if today he will welcome the 160,000 downloads of Protect Scotland—the app launched by the Scottish Government. Both I and my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) are tracing, so if anyone shows symptoms, that will show up. When will England catch up and launch a contact tracing app similar to Protect Scotland?’
Again Hancock dismissed the key request from the SNP, saying: ‘It is a real pleasure to be commended on my enthusiasm for technology—normally comments about my enthusiasm are followed by a large ‘but’. In this case, I totally agree about the importance and use of technology, and that will be coming to English pockets very soon.’
After a third attempt from the SNP, this time from Alan Brown, there was finally movement as Hancock realised the party would not let it drop.
Brown said: ‘As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow East (David Linden) pointed out, the Scottish Government have already got the Protect Scotland mobile app up and running. That has been used by 160,000 people already. When oh when will the secretary of state and his government have their tracing app in place?’
Hancock this time offered some praise. He explained: ‘Very soon. As the UK secretary of state, I urge all people in Scotland to download the app. I know that the Scottish Government’s app is technically excellent and I strongly endorse it, as I will strongly endorse people in England to download the English app, people in Wales to download the Welsh app and people in Northern Ireland to download the Northern Ireland app to support the whole of the UK to do everything we all can to tackle this problem.’